As an American, we are conditioned to fight for our rights. After all, that's basically how our country began, right? I've observed rebellion in the plots of most of our movies, even cartoons. So it's no wonder that fighting against persecution is often our first response. A fleshly response indeed.
But I have observed something entirely different in believers who are truly being persecuted. They don't fight for their rights in a rude way. They pray for their persecutors and in many cases those same people end up giving their lives to Christ because that kind of a response to evil is only possible through the power of God. (For lots of these true testimonies, visit http://www.gfa.org/persecution/).
The apostle Peter was warned about coming persecution by Jesus. He was so confident that he wouldn't buckle under the trial that here is what he said:
Matthew 26:33-36 Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.”
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”
“No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”
Did Peter pray like Jesus told him to?
And he (Jesus) cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, "Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?
Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak."
Poor Peter. I totally understand. Many of us American Christians are in the exact same place today, falling asleep spiritually instead of watching and praying. Prayer is the only way to keep from falling into temptation.
What happens next is that Peter totally responds to persecution in a fleshly manner (but maybe the same way we often tend to try to fight for our rights?)
Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave.
But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”
John 18:25-27 Meanwhile, as Simon Peter was standing by the fire warming himself, they asked him again, “You’re not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it, saying, “No, I am not.”
But one of the household slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Didn’t I see you out there in the olive grove with Jesus?”
Again Peter denied it. And immediately a rooster crowed.
Wow. So sad. Thankfully, the story doesn't end there. Peter repents and later goes on to have a very powerful and effective ministry. I wonder what would have happened if he had prayed like Jesus asked. It's ironic that a relative of the guy whose ear he cut off is the one who tempts him to deny Christ. Fleshly deeds have a way of compounding.
The question I have for us is simply, what should our response be when we are facing persecution? What if Christianity was outlawed in America? Is the time we spend together as believers worth risking our lives for? Would our response to persecution amaze the persecutors so much that they would see the undeniable work of God in our lives? Prayer would be the only way such a response would be possible.